Historical records matching General James Van Fleet
About General James Van Fleet
James Alward Van Fleet (March 19, 1892 – September 23, 1992) was a U.S. Army officer during World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Van Fleet was a native of New Jersey, who was raised in Florida and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy. He served as a regimental, divisional and corps commander during World War II and as the commanding General of U.S. Army and other United Nations forces during the Korean War.
Early life and education
James Van Fleet was born in Coytesville, New Jersey, but his parents moved to Florida when he was an infant and he was raised there. Van Fleet received his high school education at the Summerlin Institute in Bartow, Florida.
After graduating from Summerlin in 1911, Van Fleet received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. While he was a cadet at West Point, he was a member of the Army football team and was a standout fullback on the undefeated Army team of 1914. Van Fleet graduated in the West Point Class of 1915 that included many future generals, and which military historians have called "the class the stars fell on." Van Fleet's classmates included Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley. After graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army infantry.
During World War I, he served as a battalion commander as part of the American Expeditionary Force under General John J. Pershing.
While serving as the senior officer of the University of Florida's U.S. Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program, Van Fleet also served as the head coach of the Florida Gators football team in 1923 and 1924. He led the Gators into national prominence with a 12–3–4 (.737) record.
Van Fleet commanded the 8th Infantry Regiment for three years and led it into combat in Europe in World War II, participating in the D-Day landings on Utah Beach in June 1944. Although widely regarded as an outstanding officer, he was blocked from promotion because the Army Chief of Staff, General George Marshall, erroneously confused Van Fleet with a well-known alcoholic officer with a similar name. When Eisenhower, now the European Theater commander, informed Marshall of his mistake, Van Fleet was soon promoted to divisional and corps command. He later served with General George S. Patton's U.S. Third Army as commander of III Corps.
In 1946, Van Fleet was sent to Greece as the executor of the "Truman Doctrine," and he was instrumental in the outcome of the Greek Civil War by providing advice to the Greek government and 250 military advisers, as well as administering $400 million in military aid. The central square in the northern Greek city of Kastoria has featured a bust of Van Fleet for many years, and was replaced with a new statue as recently as 2007.
Van Fleet was commanding general of the U.S. Second Army from August 10, 1950 to April 11, 1951.
In 1951, he replaced General Matthew B. Ridgway as commander of the U.S. Eighth Army and United Nations forces in Korea. He continued Ridgway's efforts to strengthen the Eighth Army in its campaign against numerically superior Communist Chinese and North Korean enemy forces. His only son, U.S. Air Force Captain James A. Van Fleet, Jr., was a B-26 bomber pilot who was killed in the Korean War.
Legacy and death
At the time of his retirement from active duty in 1953, former President Harry S. Truman said "General Van Fleet is the greatest general we have ever had . . . I sent him to Greece and he won the war. I sent him to Korea and he won the war." Van Fleet was the recipient of three Distinguished Service Crosses (the U.S. Army's second highest award for bravery in combat), three Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat, and his most prized possession—the Combat Infantryman's Badge of the common foot soldier.
In 1957, Van Fleet was the moving spirit behind the establishment in New York of the Korea Society, the first nonprofit organization in the United States dedicated to the promotion of friendly relations between the peoples of the United States and Korea "through mutual understanding and appreciation of their respective cultures, aims, ideals, arts, sciences and industries."
Van Fleet died in his sleep on his ranch outside Polk City, Florida on September 23, 1992, several months after celebrating his 100th birthday in 1992. He was the oldest living general officer in the United States at the time of his death. Van Fleet was buried in Section 7 of Arlington National Cemetery.
Shortly after his death, The Korea Society established its annual James A. Van Fleet Award to recognize those who have made outstanding contributions to closer U.S.-Korea ties. The Gen. James A. Van Fleet State Trail, running from Polk City to Mabel, Florida, is also named in his honor. The University of Florida bestowed an honorary doctorate on him in 1946, and the university's military sciences building, which houses the U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy ROTC programs, is named Van Fleet Hall. He was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as an "honorary letter winner" in 1971. In 1998, a panel of Florida historians and other consultants named Van Fleet one of the fifty most important Floridians of the 20th century.
Van Fleet's estate donated his papers to the George C. Marshall Foundation, and are the second largest collection of papers held by the foundation, after those of General Marshall.
Van Fleet and his wife, Helen Moore Van Fleet, had three children, eight grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren.